Oh, Bubsy. Where to even start? The first couple of 16-bit titles were actually fairly enjoyable, but everything unravelled for the maligned mascot with the arrival of Bubsy 3D, certainly one of the worst games to grace a PlayStation console. To answer his catchphrase, everything did go wrong, and with his name in tatters, the bobcat was never seen again. Imagine our surprise, then, when Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back was announced earlier this year, launching on the 21st anniversary of his fateful three-dimensional disaster.
Luckily, the title regresses back to a 2D formula, and sees a return to the simple yarn ball collecting and alien hopping of the original games. In terms of story, there isn’t much to speak of; the alien race from the initial games, known as Woolies, have returned to steal Bubsy’s collection of yarn, and you’ll guide the feline hero on his quest to retrieve it. You won’t need to set aside much time to do this, as the game will probably last you an absolute maximum of four hours. That’s if you want to collect all the yarn, t-shirts, and keys littered throughout each level, and do so without dying. If not, you could breeze through in less than half that time.
You would hope that solid platforming, tight controls, and interesting features would compensate for the short length, but sadly The Woolies Strike Back falls flat in these areas. The platforming isn’t too bad, but Bubsy feels slippery to control which can sometimes make basic leaps more difficult than they should be. This is exacerbated by overly generous air control; we often found ourselves overshooting jumps or hitting enemies because the movement in mid-air was too sensitive. To be fair, the glide manoeuvre allows for a more precise descent, but it also acts as a sort of double jump that can cause as many problems as it solves.
The worst move at Bubsy’s disposal is also his newest, however. The pounce is introduced primarily as a means of attacking Woolies, but it somehow perfectly arches just above their heads, rendering it almost useless. Unlike the jump or glide, it has a fixed trajectory, which can screw up your platforming if you misjudge a pounce on an airborne alien.
It’s a shame that the controls are lacklustre, because the levels are fairly sizeable and exploration is required if you’re to 100% complete the game. There are essentially three themes to the levels – a forest area, a desert, and outer space – and unfortunately, they’re all uninspiring places to be. The levels in the different areas don’t feel terribly distinct from one another, which comes down to a couple of things: one is relatively similar level layouts that don’t change things up enough, and the other is the presentation.
Visually, The Woolies Strike Back is colourful but boring. Levels lose their identity due to samey backdrops and the same enemy types being recycled across most of the game. The music changes for each group of levels, but none of it is particularly memorable. Worse is Bubsy’s incessant chatter. He will regularly spout one-liners, of which there are only a few, and any entertainment you may garner from this disappears after the first ten minutes. Mercifully, this can be turned off in the options.
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is a wholly unremarkable experience. The presentation, controls, and level design are all lacking, and the handful of stages offer little variety. It’s not the worst platformer ever – it’s not even the worst Bubsy game – it’s simply inconsequential, forgettable, and bland in every aspect. Fans of the original games may get a kick out of this, but even they may feel disappointed by the bobcat’s latest, and probably last, adventure.